Women form the backbone of our society yet their health is given most attention only during pregnancy and childbirth. However, every woman might experience some form of sexual and reproductive health concern in their life. This could manifest as PCOS, UTI, endometriosis, or sexual and pelvic health complications. The social stigma attached to accessing SRH services and the limited access to non-judgemental care prevents women from receiving timely care and attention.
What adds to the problem is that in India, there is a lack of systemic data on women’s reproductive and sexual health indicators. Having more data about Indian women’s environmental, genetic, and lifestyle risk factors, prevalence rates and awareness can lay the foundation for more substantive research on diagnostics and effective treatment options. This is critical in a country like India where the rise in middle-income population fuelling lifestyle changes, and genetic disease burden create a perfect storm of factors leading to the high prevalence of chronic concerns.
This is why Uvi Health, a digital therapeutics platform that provides women with holistic, science-backed care for sexual & reproductive health (SRH) conditions, recently conducted a survey investigating the awareness and prevalence of various conditions in India. The survey received about 2600 responses from urban India, between the ages of 15-73. The survey is definitely a much-needed first step in uncovering the prevalence of different SRH disorders, risk levels for Indian women, and ways to improve the effectiveness of treatments.
Key insights from the survey
Sexual and reproductive health awareness in India
SRH education in India has long been mired in cultural furor and shame. Steps were taken by the government to expand the scope of the sex-ed curriculum to help young adolescents learn about sexual violence and rights, contraception, and substance abuse. However, awareness about chronic hormonal disorders, sexual dysfunctions, pelvic health is severely lacking. This often leads to delayed diagnosis, comorbidities, and complications and ultimately translates to a higher cost of care.
When it came to awareness about common SRH concerns, less than 60% of urban Indian women were aware of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition that affects roughly 10% of the global population. This is expected to be much lower among rural women. More than 60% of women are unaware of hyperthyroidism and less than 30% know of other sexual and reproductive health concerns such as endometriosis and vaginismus.
Prevalence rates of sexual and reproductive health concerns
The prevalence rates of common SRH concerns are relatively unknown and this can be attributed to the lack of systemic methods of collating data. This is especially evident in the absence of a mechanism of collecting data from Primary Health Centers, Public and Private clinics, and hospitals. In this scenario, it becomes very difficult to understand the actual picture.
What do we know about PCOS?
For PCOS, the most cited study on PCOS prevalence rate in India (1 in 5) comes from The Metropolis, a pathology chain that conducted an 18-month pan India study in 2016 to measure testosterone levels among women. However, given the complex nature of the syndrome, and the varying symptoms observed among different women this may at best indicate risk of PCOS over the actual incidence of PCOS.
Despite its prevalence, very little is known about how women are diagnosed, their symptoms, and treatment options. Globally, the gold standard for diagnosing PCOS is the Rotterdam Criteria which requires a patient to present two of three symptoms (irregular periods, excess androgens, or polycystic ovaries). Only 17% of our respondents stated that their clinicians investigated all three conditions before providing a diagnosis. 32% of respondents were diagnosed based on only two of three conditions, 49% were diagnosed based on only one condition.
A word from the experts
Mehak Malik, CEO, and co-founder of Uvi Health says “The low awareness numbers and high prevalence rates are no shock to most experts in the field. Sexual and reproductive health has not been a priority in our society and culture, and that has to change. For PCOS, the genetic risk factors are very high in a country like India which explains why the Indian prevalence rate is at least twice as much as the global average of 10% (or 1 in 10 women). 57% of women we surveyed said they had a history of PCOS or diabetes in their family.”
The survey also revealed that a majority of respondents felt that their family and doctors were a reliable support system. Interestingly, less than 30% of respondents considered their spouse and friends to be part of their support system.
Dr. Theertha Shetty, an OBGYN with over 8 years of experience and one of the experts at Uvi Health says “It is time that women’s sexual and reproductive health become a priority and this survey is a step in the right direction. This survey highlights symptoms, diagnosis rate, and common treatment options available, and this will bridge the gap of information that exists currently. I hope people read this survey and try to overcome the taboo of seeking help for these issues.”
Uvi Health is an all-in-one digital therapeutics platform that helps women manage their reproductive & sexual health concerns. Their current focus is to help women with PCOS. You can read the full report here.
Featured image source: Times of India